By Emily Hibbits
In the 21st century, the most valuable asset that one can attain is information. In a society driven by the World Wide Web, the information available is limitless, including personal information. Everything searched on Google, Amazon, and Facebook is recorded and collected. Your personal data is stored and then used to personally market to your wants and needs. After online shopping, it is likely that your Facebook advertisements mirror the products that you recently viewed. This may all seem innocent, but when does it cross the line?
In an interview on National Public Radio with Audie Cornish and Manoush Zomorodi, a device called “Stingray” was discussed. Zomorodi states, “Stingray is a device that basically acts like a fake cell phone tower. It sends out a signal that talks to all the phones in the area, even if they’re not being used. And the technical term is an International Mobile Subscriber Identity Catcher. And so it can be used to listen in on a cell phone, but most importantly, Stingrays can track a cell phone and its owner right down to the room or even the pocket that it’s in.”
In the November 2015 issue of The Atlantic, Walter Kirn describes an instance which made him uneasy. He called to his wife in the next room to ask her where she put the walnuts – she didn’t hear him. A few minutes later he checked the fitness app on his phone and noticed a notification that popped up. “Walnuts,” it read, “It told me to eat more walnuts.” What’s the big deal? If you’re living a relatively normal life, you may have nothing to hide. In Kirn’s article entitled, “If You’re Not Paranoid, You’re Crazy”, he points out, “How could you anticipate the ways in which insights bred of spying might prove handy to some future regime? New tools have a way of breeding new abuses. Detailed logs of behaviors that I found tame – my Amazon purchases, online comments, and even my meanderings through the physical world, collected by biometric scanners, say, or license-plate readers on police cars – might someday be read in a hundred different ways by powers whose purposes I cannot fathom.”
Fox Mulder puts it frankly in a monologue on X-Files, “The corporate takeover of food and agriculture, pharmaceuticals and health care, even the military, in clandestine agendas, to fatten, dull, sicken and control a populace already consumed by consumerism…”
Last year there was evidence that Google Chrome could actively listen into your room by transmitting audio data from a black box of code, according to the New York Times. The user must approve an “Enable Microphone” notification (which pops up behind the browser). Marc Weber Tobias states, “The permission to turn on your microphone will remain active until cancelled, which means a site can continue to monitor your speech without your knowledge.”
Similarly, some iPhone apps request microphone and location data to be turned on. The location data can be compiled into a very detailed schedule. Cellphone towers and Wi-Fi hotspots update your location as you travel throughout the day. If you “Share your location” with friends, they can also track where you go. Apple has a “Next Destination” feature which studies your daily patterns and relays information back to you, such as, “It would take you about fifteen minutes to drive home right now.”
We are essentially the first generation to deal with this data overload. As technology becomes more sophisticated, so does the way in which people can be monitored. George Orwell’s 1984 paints the picture of a dystopian reality where “Big Brother is Watching You.” The novel’s protagonist, Winston, lives in a reality eerily similar to our own, “It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself – anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide.”